The Pakistani Student Left is Rising Again

Source: The News

It is about time. They have been repressed for way too long. And this country cannot hide what embarrasses it anymore in the age of information. In a huge blow to the “fifth-generation warfare” effort of the DG ISPR, a completely wrong kind of group has been capturing all the limelight of late on social and alternate media like Naya Daur. The Progressive Students Collective.

We never thought we would see this day when the socialists in Pakistan will ever catch the public eye but the credit goes to the patient Progressive Students Federation. During the Faiz Festival, the “jacket girl” was seen chanting revolutionary anthems from the Independence Movement era and revolutionary socialist slogans.

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The jacket girl is now an icon.

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Immediately, the students who were vocally challenging the establishment and patriarchal structure were bombarded with abuse on social media. Arooj was attacked for being too elitist to be raising revolutionary socialist slogans with people focusing on the leather jacket that she was wearing. Even though, the trained eye could see how elitist those students in the group were.

Interviews such as these on Naya Daur allowed Arooj Aurangzeb, the leather jacket girl, and her comrades to explain themselves as far as their privilege and class was concerned.

The demands of the students organizing the Solidarity March are pretty straight forward and uncomplicated. They want free education, the reversal of impossible fee hikes, increase in education budget, reversal in cuts, access to audited reports of universities, action against sexual harassment and intimidation by surveillance, and, most importantly, the restoration of student unions in academic institutions to enable the inclusion of students in policymaking that concerns them.

Conservative Pakistan has a severe aversion to student politics because it has been systematically dismantled by the bureaucratic establishment in the country. They introduced violence in it through the Jamaat-e-Islami until platforms such as the NSF were disintegrated and so was the concept of student unions. Student Unions became synonymous with violence and intimidation and middle-class conservatives started associating politics with the same evil. The Zia regime had banned student politics and earlier Ayub Khan was threatened by it too. The military dictators saw curbing student politics an effective way of crushing any possible dissent challenging their illegitimate government.

However, this new rise of the left student politics is heartening. Seeing bold and courageous young women such as Arooj Aurangzeb is heartening. This is a sign that the future may not be all dark and gloomy for Pakistan and that we are seeing an entity other than Islami Jamiat Talaba as a part of Student Politics. This is why the Student Solidarity March is being organized this Friday.

I urge all the progressives, center and center-left liberals as well as all pro-democracy conservatives and human rights advocates to join students on the Solidarity March on November 29 at 1400 HRS across the country.

The Culture of False Expectations

Source: ARY News

You would hear quite a few people complain about PTI being targeted for walking back on its vows and claims and election promises. Who doesn’t walk back on their election vows and promises, right? Well, in the case of the PTI, there is a reason why they should catch some flak more than usual.

PTI has spent the years before coming to power forming a mindset of its gullible and morally constipated followers which has worsened cynicism astronomically in politics in Pakistan. Feeding on the Caliphate Syndrome that all conservative nationalist and Islamist leaders in Pakistan have been guilty of, this culture of false expectations and detachment from reality. Apart from progressing the military and bureaucratic establishment-backed anti-corruption narrative.

There are several problems with the narrative of the PTI. While they do not really concede that even their party is not ideological but a personality worship cult, the colossal swings in their positions on issues have been devastating to their faithful fan base. The continuous decline in the purchasing power of the Pakistan Rupee is devastating an economy used to heavy subsidies from the government, and a system that PTI heavily endorsed until it assumed power. It is amusing to see how the party leadership and fanbase espousing the Medina State

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One of the most shocking yet pleasantly surprising u-turn was PTI’s stance on privatization. Actually, it was a huge surprise that a party heavily advocating government subsidies and welfare state interventions would support privatization so strongly. The talk of privatizing public hospitals made even PML-N look like social democrats.

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PTI started with burning passion and I wish them all the best to take the country on the road to prosperity, especially since Abdul Hafeez Sheikh has taken over the treasury. We are not rooting for ourselves if we are not rooting for them. But the party leadership must understand that you only have so much tolerance for bullshit.

The problem with such rhetoric is that it creates such a cynical and toxic political environment that enables and feeds both the prevalent Messiah complex of the nation and the military and bureaucratic establishment. The corrupt and the incompetent will keep on falling short and the unaccountable will continue to reign.

Therefore, the PTI must not campaign as if it’s the last time they are asking for votes because there will always be a next time.

New Pakistan, Old Donors

Source: PTI Official

The faux populist and communitarian ruling party PTI has been touting a narrative of piety and financial purity. Inseparably entwined with this narrative of fiscal responsibility is the age-old push to curb financial corruption. Pushing false populism has always been the weapon of the Pakistani bureaucratic establishment to fool the politically unconscious people of Punjab and the rest of urban Pakistan. In its latest term, the PTI is following similar trends that the formerly pro-establishment PML-N had been following until the very recent past. That is feeding the narrative of corruption of politicians and targeting the other political party and enabling the bureaucratic establishment to manipulate politics in the country.

PTI entered the government with high hopes of the urban middle class of the nation. Not very different to the Islamic Socialist delusion offered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PTI populism is also full of empty slogans and misdirecting promises. But I guess that is how you win elections.

The talk about the mini-budget that supposedly offers vulgar relief to potential tax evaders, considering all the hullabaloo they made on the Panama Papers and the self-righteous tweets of the Prime Minister, and the possible rise in GST, only speaks volumes about the PTI. It is reporting losses of revenue in the budget while resorting to the same old financing activities such as bail-outs from Saudi Arabia and UAE and borrowed oil shipments. So much for turning the country on the path of self-sufficiency. The gulf between their ideological rhetoric and the reality is too painful to ignore.

But before we pathologically go too hard on PTI, the good thing is that the party is made up of people who don’t actually believe in the nonsense they vow about. Just like your average Pakistani, whose actions don’t match their beliefs. Though unlike average Pakistanis, they are a bunch of profiteering opportunists not genuinely interested in democracy in Pakistan. All the best to the PTI government for doing a great job for fixing the finances of the country. I guess rechecking public spending patterns for advertising is right on principle, even the media has taken a big hit because of that and they are on the right path on tourism. However, any amount of governance effort will only disillusion the party base because they are discovering that the things they consider financial corruption are simply acts of governance.

However, the hypocrisy of creating a false narrative of financial piety can only last for so long, especially considering every political entity falls out of the establishment’s favor sooner or later in Pakistan.

The Election Day Post: Inching Toward Democracy

Source: Reuters/The Financial Times

Democracy is a very difficult ideal to pursue in Pakistan. And one that is much needed to because of many of even its urban educated people being completely oblivious to its aspects that ensure fundamental rights. However, they are well aware of their right to exercise their vote. They realize the importance of their voice and using that strong . And probably the older generation and rural population are more aware of this right than the cynical and disillusioned urban educated class with all their privilege.

With the presence of a bureaucratic deep state that undermines elected officials at each stage and propagating against them to the general public, we are about to witness the second consecutive civilian administration transferring power in Pakistan’s history. This election was sadly seen as a civil war between those who are for and against state establishment elements. Depending on tonight’s election results, we will supposedly get a referendum on the Panama verdicts and the prison sentence of the Sharifs. But let it be PML-N, PTI or PPP, the good news is that we are inching ahead with our democracy. And I hope that if the PTI wins, it makes a coalition government with the PPP and emphasize on collaboration instead of excluding dissenting elements.

Despite all the measures that the so-called “caretaker administration” and the judiciary have taken to undermine the incumbent PML-N for the anti-establishment stances taken by Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the results of this election should be unanimously accepted. Despite all the arrests of PML-N workers on the night that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz unexpectedly returned to Pakistan to accept their prison sentence, despite the midnight sentence against Hanif Abbasi, despite the official orders to curb the coverage of PML-N campaigns, despite all the delayed voting processes, the results of the elections must be unanimously accepted. Despite the widespread reports of military backed engineering echoed all across international media, it is important for us to unanimously accept the results of this election.

That is the best way forward for us, despite the fact that we have never seen darker and more sinister censorship from the military and bureaucratic establishment in Pakistani politics and media in decades. The silver lining is that a leader from Punjab has taken a stand against the military establishment and for the first time in the history of the country, voices of dissent and resistance have risen from the heartland of the military establishment.

This resistance for a better democracy must not go down. It is the way to a fairer, secular, and more democratic constitution.

Doubling Down on the Judicial Coup

Source: Dawn/White Star

Perhaps the judicial bureaucracy had not done enough to ensure a comprehensive ousting of the PML-N leader, they came up with another strike. The judicial coup was completed by the indictment and sentencing of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and curiously enough, his political heir Maryam Nawaz, who has started to play the defiant Benazir lately. The essentially political verdict statement, like the one of his disqualification, was standing on shaky grounds, to say the least. Especially for targeting Maryam Nawaz so heavily. Also, considering how the same judiciary is allowing General Musharraf to contest elections and has allowed the bail to controversial cop Rao Anwar in an extrajudicial killing case.

All the pieces are falling in place, as the “minus-two” understanding between the state establishment and PML-N leadership rule out any chance of an administration that resists the established order. This involves Shahbaz Sharif, the incumbent Chief Minister Punjab, leading the party and becoming the Prime Minister if PML-N wins. It’s just an insurance policy considering how Imran Khan’s huge ego could get in his way when it comes to submitting to their will, unlike in the case of his newly adopted wife-mistress. However, never have we seen PML-N candidates abandon their party tickets like we are seeing now… all because of pressure from the one that is not to be named.

For the military establishment, it does not matter what signal these measures send to the world. Their global reputation they have never cared about. Their policies despite the FATF grey-list development is a testament to that. The Election Commission’s clearance of fundamentalist religious parties, especially Hafiz Saeed’s Milli Muslim League, is a testament to that. However, it is their reputation among the Pakistani people that matters, especially in urban Punjab. It is an uprising in the heartland that it cannot afford.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history, their reputation among the people of Punjab has been shaken. Before the clash with the PML-N, Punjabis used to issue certificates of patriotism and treason to Bengalis, Sindhis, Baluchs, and Pashtuns. Since Maryam Nawaz, Punjabi leadership has become a national security threat for the first time. But will the most popular political leadership of the country, the recipient of more votes than probably any entity in the history of Pakistan, going to inspire the people enough to get them out on the streets?

Not likely. Punjab has been traditionally politically dormant but never has the order been shaken in this manner. The recent confrontation is probably a reason enough to forgive Nawaz Sharif for seeking the patronage of a military dictator to launch his career. At least why blame Maryam for it?

But the real threat to the perpetuity of democracy remains to be the citizens who stand firmly behind the state bureaucratic establishment. Once we recognize the judicial coups and stop celebrating coups, we may inch closer to democracy.